East vs West

Mad Chaos: February 3, 2020 – Contacting The Australian Consulate Hotline From China

Today, on our twelfth consecutive day of self-quarantine in Guangzhou (广州市) due to the coronavirus (冠状病毒), I woke up to playful screams from my son in the living room.  I opened the bedroom door to see my wife seated down with him together at the dinner table in her arms playing.

Contacting The Australian Consulate Hotline

“Can I use your phone?  I need to call the Australian consulate 24-hour hotline in Australia.  I think my phone ran out of credit,” I asked her.

Her phone connected.  Within a few minutes I was talking to members of the Australian consulate.

I announced, “I have a question.  I am coming to Australia from China, Guangzhou.  I am an Australian citizen but I am coming with my wife and child who are both Hong Kong citizens.  Will they be able to come to Australia with me?”

Straight away, the woman barked out at me, “No!  They can’t!”

I was still in surprise, when she continued to ask, “What visas are they on now?”

I said, “They don’t need visas because Hong Kong citizens have visa-free entry into Australia.”

I could see now, this phone operator from the Australian consulate approached our conversation with the assumption that my family were Chinese citizens who either have a visa to enter into Australia or would need to apply for a visa, knowing that mainland Chinese would now have their visa applications to Australia rejected on health grounds.

When she heard that my wife and child are Hong Kong citizens, she backtracked, “Yes, then you would be able to come to Australia and bring them along.”

I pressed, “Where do I have to prove that we have a relationship?  Is it at the airport in Guangzhou or in Australia at border patrol?”

She said, “Both.  The airline can refuse to take you for any legitimate reasons.  When you come to Australia you will need to provide that evidence to border patrol.”

Once I finished the conversation I joked with my wife, “Initially she gave me the wrong information and said no.  Then she did a backflip and said yes.  The Australian government does not know what they are doing.”

Discussing Coronavirus Statistics During Lunch

Soon, we used WeChat (微信) to order coffees from Costa Coffee.  Meanwhile, my wife fed our baby his lunch.

We used that time around the dinner table to chat about new novel coronavirus updates.

There are now 17,000 infection cases in China and 361 deaths.  It is a very low death rate, and also a very low recovery rate so far.

Every day new reports keep coming out.  Today I heard a report that the H5N1 bird flu resurfaced in Hunan province (湖南省).  The local government had to cull 20,000 birds.

Anxiously, my wife exclaimed, “There are so many disasters happening in China!  The coronavirus.  Then the earthquake in Chengdu yesterday.  Now the H5N1 bird flu!”

She shared a news report where doctors suspect coronavirus can be passed through faeces.  If true, that would be a disaster for China.  I still get disgusted when I visit public lavatories, crouch down over the bowl in the floor, and try to avoid the urine, faeces, spit and cigarette butts as I place my hand down somewhere on the floor.

I told her to just be wary of the news that keeps coming out online because there are a lot of rumors that have spread around.

A New Novel Coronavirus Case From The Wet Markets

Soon, our coffees had arrived.  We continued our lazy day indoors.  I entertained my son for an hour while my wife conducted business on her phone.  He became tired and agitated around 4pm so we got him to sleep.

In that time, my wife mentioned, “Be careful.  Don’t go to the wet markets you visited a few days ago, you remember the markets with the live eels?  They found a new patient with coronavirus who came from there.”

I didn’t find that news hard to believe.  There were too many old people walking around without masks, and a few people coughing when I shopped there.  One person right next to me coughed as I purchased potatoes.  So, you never know.  It could have been me.

Contacting Hong Kong Customs

Later, I asked her to call up the Hong Kong customs service to find out whether I am allowed to enter Hong Kong.

She came back with information to say I can go there but I will be restricted for 14 days, plus we have to self-quarantine.

We talked about our options.

In terms of escape routes back to Australia from China, I said, “That is possible.  We can go to Hong Kong and spend 14 days there before we go back to Australia, but that has its own problems.”

I delved, “If we pack up everything here and put all our belongings in your father’s house, and if we manage to get our bond back in full for this apartment when our lease expires, what happens if, when we go to Hong Kong, customs says, ‘Sorry, but your husband cannot enter.’ Then what do we do?”

She took a moment to consider that, as I continued, “When we are forced to come back to China we will no longer have an apartment to live in anymore.  We will be stuck.  We also cannot catch an airplane in Hong Kong, so we will lose all our money and have nowhere to live.”

That was a big problem.

I reasoned, “The best thing we can do is to catch a plane from Guangzhou to Sydney via Kuala Lumpur because there are no huge travel restrictions on our travel to Malaysia at the moment.”

Researching Overseas Flight Travel Options

We double-checked the travel advisory for Malaysia.  It is still the same.  We can still travel through that country.

My wife was worried however, saying, “We have to go sooner.  The quicker we can leave the better.”

We flicked through the airplane ticket prices online.

I said, “The good thing is that not many people will be leaving from China to go to Australia now because of the travel restrictions stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.  Mainland Chinese are banned from coming to Australia, so the tickets will be easier to secure, and probably cheaper too.”

Unfortunately, as we checked the ticket prices, each adult ticket from Guangzhou to Sydney with a layover in Malaysia within the next 10 days cost $600AUD .  To be honest, $1,200AUD for 3 passengers is economical, but we do not have that much money right now.

How To Raise Money For Flight Tickets

I told her, “We can do that, but where are we going to get 6,000元?  Can you borrow that money from your mom like you said?”

When I gave her that number she balked, “No, that is too much.  I don’t want to ask her for that much.”

I said, “I know.  We don’t have the money until I get the refund back.  I can ask my parents too but I don’t want to ask them for so much money.”

The problem of how to raise funds for new airplane tickets while we waited for our Scoot airlines refund remained.

I came online to the Air Asia website to check flight availability.  If we book an airplane on March 1, 2020 with 2 adults and one toddler, it is only going to cost us $800AUD/4,000元.

When I saw the figure, I realized I already have that money sitting in my Chinese bank account.  We could use RMB to pay for our airplane tickets.  The option to buy 3 airplane tickets without waiting for my refund and without asking other people for money is there.

Diary Of A Mad Chaos: Coronavirus In China
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